Impact Centered Design — an Introduction

Urooj Qureshi
Published in
8 min readMar 15, 2019


Impact Centered Design (ICD) is a framework for creating and enabling ideas to create measurable and sustainable change. The design exercise is guided by building a foundational understanding of the factors that influence the enablement and success of solutions, services, and products.

Leading with an Impact Statement the design team is guided through stages to explore their ideas, test and validate hypothesis, and strategically develop solutions keeping in context the specific environment, purpose and mission, stakeholders, capacity, and other operational processes. ICD also provides a practical framework to develop solutions in alignment with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by using them as a means to benchmark and validate demand and needs for public, corporate, and social ventures.


At the heart of ICD is the Impact Statement. Every initiative begins with a spark, an idea, a curiosity, or a need. It is often here a creative process begins before mushrooming in to hours of planning, thinking, crafting, testing, releasing, and so on. But before investing sizable amounts of resources in to any initiative it is valuable to write an Impact Statement. This will simplify decision making, guide progress and set the initiative on the right set of rails for creating impact.

Impact Centered Design Framework

An Impact Statement is specific, carefully crafted, and rooted in real needs. A real need, in the ICD context, is evidence-based and identifies clear objectives for creating measurable outcomes.

For example, the statement, ‘we need to design an app for senior citizens’, offers an objective but lacks the necessary context that defines the need as well as the expected impact as result of the exercise. A proposed way to frame the statement is: ‘an accessible solution is required to improve access to care and emergency services for senior citizens who live independently.

ExerciseAt the start of your next design meeting ask each team member to write down the impact they want to create as a result of the activity that you are about to discuss or undertake. Offer a few minutes to each participant to craft an Impact Statement and write it on a post-it note. If you’re working alone, come up with 2–3 statements. Think of the need and the impact you want to create from different angles. Spend a few minutes to write each statement. Post the sticky notes on a wall and ask everyone to take a few minutes to review all of the contributions or read them out loud as a group. Create space to discuss and validate each contribution against available evidence or research to support the impact objective. Group similar contributions together. Do you see some common themes emerging? Are there statements that align with the evidence already available?

The area or solution that you or your team choose to focus on will guide the design of your solution as well as the 3P’s of Impact Centered Design: Purpose, People, and Processes


The first step in creating impact is to understand the purpose or need behind effort required. Here we begin the process of exploration and research to understand and gauge the relevance of our Impact Statement:

Why is a solution necessary now and what advantages will it offer us, our organization, and/or our users and clients? What unique opportunities do we have available to address the need identified? When is a solution needed or how urgent is the need to build a solution now instead of focusing on other demands on our resources? These are amongst the questions that are presented in a facilitated group environment to set up the right foundation and goals for design.

Example: Education as a Solution for Breaking the Cycle of Poverty

A few years ago I co-founded The Lotus Project. It happen after we discovered that nearly half of school-aged children don’t have proper access to education in Karachi. The finding created a spark for us begin a process of exploration about the issue and craft an Impact Statement guide our solutions design.

After initial research we identified that our focus needed to be on public schools. Parents who sent their children to private schools already more engaged in their children’s education and had resources to guide them towards a successful future. Public schools on the other hand were dogged by a broad range of issues, from crumbling infrastructure to lacking qualified teachers. Other times, children from low-income families were involved in supporting their families economically, among other reasons, and were dis-incentivized to attend school. We quickly discovered that we were dealing with a problem with many tentacles attached to the core issue.

Our goal was to identify a solution that would create access to quality education for all children in Karachi. However, to identify the right solution we needed to define a purpose for our exercise. The Lotus Project focused on education because it is a human right and without it youth and low-income families are perpetually excluded from opportunities in all areas of human development. Un-and-under educated children would grow up with limited opportunities, especially economic. When the same children would go on to have their families the cycle would repeat all over again. Our purpose, therefore, became an was to break this cycle of poverty by developing a program that provided meaningful opportunities to children and their families to gain a proper education and the skills necessary to access more meaningful economic opportunities.

By consulting members of the community, our users and clients, we launched a program within the public school system where children who attended regular classes would also have access to a vocational training program. The program would train boys and girls in skills-based trades such as carpentry, painting, sewing so that when required they can put those skills to use along with their education to engage in entrepreneurial activities or better paid work that was in-demand in a growing city and economy.


Impact Centered Design takes in to account all people who will benefit or be engaged in the process of creating the intended impact — that includes co-creators, partners, people involved in the supply of materials, and delivery of service. Each stakeholder contributes to the ripple effects created as a result of the design effort. For example, a mobile phone company that builds devices with replaceable parts to reduce consumer and industrial waste can also measure their impact by consciously choosing the sources and types of materials being used in the production of their products. Every stakeholder involved in the process, from material extraction to bringing the phone to market, offers an opportunity to create more sustainable outcomes.

ICD leverages human-centered design (HCD) to create exceptional user experiences delivered through consciously designed products and services. Using personas ICD guides the creation of reliable and realistic representations of each audience segment. Personas are based on qualitative and quantitative research to aid in uncovering catalysts for the creation of solutions that will result in measurable impact.

Example: A Recipe for Success using Personas

In 2015, the co-founders of Pinpic set out to create an app that allows users to hire photographers on demand. The product addressed two principal personas: (a) the photographer, and (b) the photography customer. To build a sustainable and impact centered product, the founding team needed deeper insight into the true needs and pain point of these personas? Why would they care about using the app? What was it that users were really purchasing or using (what’s the value)?

The team used a number of user research methods to create personas, including conducting user interviews and surveys. They launched a Kickstarter campaign as a tactic to gather data about users who are willing to invest the type of service we wanted to bring to market. The data collected drove product decisions and business model design. Everything was evidence based. Furthermore, by discovering and engaging users early on, the team built a database of potential customers, ready to sign-up on launch day over 60% did in fact sign-up as early adopters for Pinpic’s private alpha release and provided further valuable feedback for a more polished public beta release. Studying customers and users and understanding their needs and motivations is an important exercise when designing for impact.

Can you spot the two types of users that use Pinpic in this campaign video?


Transformation happens through design and engineering guided by purpose, peoples needs and wants, and a well crafted delivery process. Process requires keeping in context capacity and resources, materials and production methods, as well as the evaluation and measurement of impact. The designer must also ensure that the solution is desirable, viable, technically feasible, and accessible to the end user.

When viewed from people’s needs and pain points, processes uncover the necessary actions to drive business requirements. Whilst viewed from the point of view of purpose, they define a feasible and measurable success criteria.

Using tools such as service design and journey mapping designers guide experience design to create the intended outcomes. They also provide a framework for the engagement of various resources to enable the desired use case at the intended checkpoint. Finally, the designers toolkit will also provide a sound foundation for the tracking and measurement of transformation.

Example: More than a Product, a Smart Phone that is a Call-to-Action

Fairphone is an excellent example of a product that is designed for impact. The smart phone company is mission driven in all aspects of their operation, from using ethically sourced materials and manufacturing, to improving the social welfare of underrepresented mine and factory workers along the mobile phone industry’s supply chain. By consciously designing for impact Fairphone has carefully crafted processes and defined four strategic goals to measure its progress in each impact area:

Long-Lasting Design to deliver on their impact objectives, Fairphone builds products to last and be repaired easily by the customer. They have brought real innovation to their industry by creating the world’s first modular phone.

Fair Materials Fairphone has developed a framework to better understand the issues in materials supply chain and source more responsibly by increasing their use of recycled materials. They have also identified partners to help them achieve their impact objectives.

Good Working Conditions to create a lasting impact Fairphone takes responsibility of how and where their products are manufactured and go beyond the traditional compliance model. They have made it their goal to improve working conditions in the heart of the electronics sector, including health and safety, worker representation and working hours.

Reuse and Recycle instead of selling a new phone to their customers every 18 months, Fairphone sells spare parts and offer repair tutorials to encourage customer to use their phone for as long as possible. They also partner to improve local collection efforts in countries struggling with electronic waste.


Impact Centered Design (ICD) is guides designers in every sector and industry. The framework combines design tools and frameworks to help drive transformation to create meaningful change be it products, services, or organizations.

Impact Centered Design is used to drive global change and progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) established by the world community through the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The global call to action has 17 goals to improve the quality of life for all people and protect the planet. By integrating SDG’s in the design process, designers, who can be individuals or organizations, create transformation towards sustainability and access validated demand for their solutions.

Sustainable Development Goals. Source: UNDP


Impact Centered Design is developed by Urooj Qureshi, internationally renowned design leader and social entrepreneur who continues to innovate in today’s digital society and advises leaders and change makers globally.

If you would like more information about how to use Impact Centered Design for your initiative or within your organization, please contact Urooj at:



Urooj Qureshi

Founder and Principal at Design Centered Co. by day, and passionate adventurer, amateur anthropologist, and proud father. Let’s discuss #impact.